MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Newmont manager named suspect

Published by MAC on 2004-09-02

Newmont manager named suspect

2 September 2004

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

After more than a month of investigation, the National Police named on Wednesday the head of waste disposal at PT Newmont Minahasa Raya a suspect in a pollution case involving the United States-operated mining firm.

National Police detectives chief Comr. Gen. Suyitno Landung Sudjono said the manager, whose identity was withheld, was the person in charge of ensuring the company's waste disposal system was in accordance with Law No. 23/1997 on the environment.

The police announcement came a day after State Minister of the Environment Nabiel Makarim announced that a review by 16 scientists from several universities and independent organizations concluded that PT Newmont had violated regulations and contaminated Buyat Bay.

Under the law, an individual found guilty of deliberately contaminating the environment may face up to 10 years of imprisonment, or 15 years if the pollution causes the death or physical suffering of a human being.

Suyitno said the police would question the company official on Monday.

"We will begin with the official. If we find that he provided his superiors with periodical reports that they didn't act on, we will question them also," Suyitno said.

Article 46 of Law No. 23/1997 states that a company can be implicated in a pollution case if it is proven that a violation has been committed with the knowledge of the company. In that case, the top ranking official will be held responsible for the offense.

Palmer Situmorang, PT Newmont's lawyer, said his client was ready to comply with the police's summons at anytime.

"We will not evade the legal process. We are ready for questioning, either as a witness or suspect, and are set to prove in court that we are not guilty," he said.

Suyitno said a police investigation had found that PT Newmont had contaminated Buyat Bay and Buyat River with heavy metal substances.

"PT Newmont has deposited its tailings between 73 meters and 83 meters beneath the surface of the bay, while experts say the thermocline in Buyat Bay is located between 100 meters and 200 meters below sea level. The tailings can dissolve in water if they aren't disposed of under the thermocline layer," he said.

Police laboratory tests showed that the level of mercury and arsenic 40 meters below the surface of Buyat Bay water was 5.5 microgram/liter (ug/L) and 50.70 ug/L respectively, far above the standard of 1 u/L for mercury and 12 u/L for arsenic set by Decree No. 51/2004, which was issued by the Office of the State Minister of the Environment on seawater and river pollution standards.

Suyitno said it was also possible that the company had deposited of its waste in Buyat River, as the police test showed the content of mercury and arsenic there exceeded the standard set by the decree.

PT Newmont has repeatedly questioned the results of police laboratory tests, which have been contrary to tests run by other institutions.

The company said tests of 390 samples by PT ALS Indonesia showed a mercury level of only 0.055 u/L, while tests by the Office of the State Minister of the Environment showed a level of 0.059 u/L and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) found 0.005 u/L.

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